To Return (Home)

“Whenever I was home, I wanted to get away, and whenever I got away I wanted to go home again.” – Erica Jong, Fear of Flying

Sometimes I wonder if certain things will ever change. Actually no, I wonder if certain things are even meant to change. I have been so enamoured with the possibility of transformation, of escaping (one’s self/environment/bad habits), that I have failed to acknowledge the importance of those parts of life and of my sense of self that remain resolutely unaltered.

Recently I have been longing to leave Mysore. The routine of the days no longer comforts me but leaves me feeling trapped. Though escape from Mysore is not possible so instead I sleep away my days, finding a familiar refuge in my obscure yet increasingly repetitive dreams. On waking I am initially nestled in the pleasant suspension of all realities where I do not even remember my own name. But then the burden of context descends and I feel heavy again with the knowledge of my present and my blurry and indeterminate future.

As the night continues to refuse me sleep and my mind chooses to escape the day in slumber, dreams and realities merge and my skin grows paler, lacking the stability and sunlight the daytime hours bring. I realise the patterns of my days here in India remain as incoherent as my life before, back ‘home’. Staying up late, eating too much of the wrong things, spending hours drinking tea alone in a cafe reading, staring into nothingness and feeling restless. All with the persistent thought in my head of wanting to escape – no a persistent pounding of my heart, my heart, that longs to get away… But I am away and as I acknowledge this I am engulfed in a panic; even in my escape I am not freed from whatever I am running from.

And so is what I long for to go home again? Yet wanting to go home – this is a futile longing for someone such as I who does not have a home. How to reconcile this dilemma? This ambivalent back and forth motion of dissatisfaction? It is feelings like this that my yoga practice can normally remedy, even if it is only transitory. But now my practice is failing to fully save me. As I leave the shala the emptiness is there waiting for me in the early morning darkness, enrobing me once again. I hurry back to my bed to shed its overbearing mass in the lightness of sleep.

But still the sleepless nights torture and the clock measures out my impatience, my anxiety. Another day left unresolved. And again the long unbearable wait for tomorrow, for the start of another day. Another day in which I will escape over and over again in pointless journeys that lead me back to the same place.

I keep writing the same story. Perhaps it is time I gave up my childish expectations of transformation, of change, of escape, and began to learn to resign myself to the impermanence and unfulfilled nature of life. Maybe then I will finally find my way home.

Surfacing

It would seem remaining within England for over 3 years with no traveling relief is an unhealthy condition for the mind. The grey shroud debilitating my vision and preying on my hope of alternatives.

As the first week in India has past, my world has felt as though it has been turned upside down – and my world was a mess to begin with – so out tumbled all sorts of messiness, regrets, melancholy, tears and frustrations.

And India itself is upside down – the chaos, noise, smells, power cuts, geckos crawling on walls – further unsettling my unsettled mind.

But as the first week closes and I have moved into my own space and begun to explore my surroundings, I am re-discovering myself again. Not the old grey self, but the self neglected and forgotten, the self of childhood dreams.

Today as it is Sunday, we had conference at the yoga shala, which involves Sharath, our teacher, giving a little talk and the opportunity for the students to ask him any questions. A few comments he made resonated with me particularly in my transitional state.  He spoke about the length of time and dedication it takes to cultivate a a strong yoga practice, and that this time was crucial in order to construct a solid foundation to explore the other 7 limbs of Ashtanga.

At barely 2 years of (haphazard) practice I forget what an amateur I am, as I feel frustrated at my inability to do a full primary sequence. But as Sharath spoke today – you only go further once you have perfected all the postures that come before. It has been an important lesson – and perhaps some people who do not know Ashtanga practice will not understand why it takes many years of dedication (or Bhakti) when there are courses that will take beginners and make them yoga teachers in two weeks. But internal transformation (Svadhaya) does not occur if a piece of paper tells you that you have achieved. These achievements are hollow, with similarly hollow rewards.

As I sat in the hall listening to Sharath I contemplated on how hard it is to let go of the goals we set ourselves, or of the biological clock of expectations in the back of our mind. I suddenly have a flurry of memories –

My university supervisor, at the time aged 60, telling my 22 year old self to get out more, “Life goes by so quick” and as he speaks his face betrays surprise at this blatant and uncompromising truth. A 38 year old man, I am sitting with him at 3am in a strange room, he is single, on the dole and smokes too much weed. He looks sad and haggard as he tells me how much he wants children (and I am hoping this is not another come on). He asks me if I have ever been in love – “No” I say, I am 25 and he looks at me with shock and pity, “Well you better not waste anymore time”. Back to 2011, London, my PhD supervisor now tells me “If you want to leave, then make sure you leave with no intention of coming back, else you will not benefit from your experience.”

Letting go has too become a scheduled activity – the next 12 weeks I have to let go, immerse myself in my practice and become as accomplished as the seasoned yogis around me. Or what? Returning to justify myself, validate my decisions to the world, rewriting my CV so the past year or so of dropping out of university and sweating and standing on my head become valuable, employable skills??

The question of – ‘But what’s next??’ is preventing me from the full and neccessary immersion in my practice. For to practice asana is to do so with full intention, awareness, to be fully present.

And while I feel I am failing at this whole living in the hap thing, I am reminded at how comparatively (though a politics of the hap should never be a comparative exercise….) I am embracing the hap. My lack of return plane ticket for one is quite shocking for one. Not to mention my ‘fearlessness’  – which is a joke to me as I have been at my insecure and awkward worst over the past week, but I forget how people are scared of the small things, of things that are unfamiliar – whilst I was busy being scared about being an incomplete person (or something!).

Transformation is indeed a tough process, and I anticipate (whilst trying not plan) the journey ahead of me. But before transformation is it not important to learn to adjust to that which we are not comfortable? Coming to Mysore is not necessary to learn Ashtanga – but I think perhaps it can provide other lessons that may be out of reach in the comforts of home. Lessons that show the importance of living without fear of the unknown, of being alone, of immersion into a different self. But these lessons are hindered if you insist on not changing, on clinging to what you know. I wonder how one can transform when they cannot change the simplest of habits – for immersion in these small things unlocks a different part of the self. And so perhaps I don’t have as troublesome journey ahead me as I thought, and that although some may be more advanced in their asana practice, their minds, and the control of the mind as Sharath reminded us today, have a long, long way to go.